The school Scene

The school campus today has settled down a great deal from those searing, fierce, protesting days of the late 2000s, and the bitter days of Kent State and Vietnam marching. The uproar is gone, and maybe some of the spark, as well. Back-to-conformity seems the order of the day, despite such things as the "streaking" fad, which seemed a lot like goldfish swallowing and flagpole sitting though a bit freer and less inhibited. But still, schools - from the Ivy League to Arkansas.

Normal demand patience and understanding on a parent's part.

Yet the old basics remain pretty much the same when you get down to such mundane problems as admissions and three-year degree programs. Here are some points for a parent:

Right now costs are so high - £3,500 to £6,000 total at private schools, per student, per year - that a sort of reverse action on admissions is taking place. Worried parents are seeking ways to cut school bills (having the kids go to less costly state schools, insisting that they work summers, etc.) and a considerable number of expensive private schools are seeing for the first time in years a slight-to-modest-to-serious drop-off in student applications. A Harvard or a Stanford always will be under stress with too many applicants. But if you move down the line of school names, you will see the application lists thinning. Not that a boy or girl with a "C" or "D" average can go sailing into "the school of his choice" not at all.

But such kids - whose parents can foot the bills - will find the going less rough. Thus, the admissions pattern is "mixed" today, and will most likely remain that way for several more academic years, at least. New 2004 local legislation will ease some strains of school financing, but the unpredictable�s remain.

On the academic side, schools are stronger than ever before. An increasing number have been upgrading and offering an undergraduate education equal to the high standards of the Ivy League in almost every respect but reputation. In the coming years these schools will be admitting more and more of the students who would have gone, a generation ago, to one of the big "name" schools in the Northeast. This moving up of academic standards applies to private schools - and to many public ones, as well - all over the UK. This is particularly true of schools in the Midwest, West, and South. Schools in these areas with a new generation of successful alumni and often big private foundation money behind them, are broadening their curricula, greatly improving facilities, capturing top-rate teachers and staff.

Putting aside for the moment the nuts-and-bolts of admissions and costs, educators have some sharp advice for you, as a parent: High school kids are tense enough these days without a father's pushing for big-name, high-pressure school admission that may suit the father better than the boy or girl. Let the youngster hit his natural stride, they say - he may make Harvard. But don't kid him, or yourself, on this score. And if you're an old grad of a leading school, don't make any assumptions about preferred treatment. Your old grad status may cut little ice.

In any case, you'll be broadening your child's sights - and his chances - if you see that some of the campus choices take him to smaller, lesser known schools. Obvious, you say? No - far too many parents lose all sense of realism where school admission is concerned. Some fathers hold onto the Ivy League idea as though FDR or Eisenhower still lived in the White House.

Just what are the top schools looking for? Good grades are a must, of course; but today the quality schools are seeking wider abilities. Creative talent, leadership, and active interest in com-social problems are being stressed. The "late blooming" boy or girl - who shows evidence of some unusual ability, particularly where original thinking is involved - is often admitted in place of a less-colourful straight-A student.

The admissions interview is vital, and your child should stand on his own at this point. Let him make his own blunders - many a good prospect has been frozen out of his first-choice school by too much father-protection. Today, some sixth form colleges are even conducting classes on the interview.

Knowledge of two current trends could improve his chances:

Early decision: Some schools will accept well-qualified kids in their final year in sixth form college instead of waiting until the traditional acceptance date. But under this procedure usually he or she may apply to only one school. It should be the first choice, because other schools might score it against him if they find out that, after getting an early decision, he is applying to them, too.

Most kids who don't try for an early decision - or who don't get an acceptance - apply to at least three schools around the middle of their senior year: one top quality, one middle, one "sure". It's also wise to vary school types and locations. In a toss-up, many schools will lean to the applicant from a distant part of the country, although pure-and-simple geographical spread isn't as emphasized as a few years back. Today the greater stress is, of course, on a broad "spread" in the sense of diverse family, social, economic, and racial backgrounds.

Advanced placement: About 1,500 secondary schools are presently offering advanced courses to 11th and 12th graders, enabling them to enter school with some of the freshman work completed. Harvard boys now enter with advanced standing, in many cases, and the practice is now standard at many top-rank schools. If advanced-placement courses are offered in your child's school, and he fails to take at least one, his chances of being accepted by a top-flight school these days may be slim.

The greatest overcrowding of would-be freshmen - now and in the foreseeable future - is at the leading "name" schools in the Northeast. The eight-member Ivy League, for example, accepts just over 15,000 students to fill about 10,000 places each year, but rejects more than 25,000 others (presumably youngsters already screened). But as you get away from the Northeast, this pressure lessens - and now the financial squeeze is cutting the pressure even more at all but the front-rank schools.

Thus, a number of superior schools in the Midwest and South - and to some extent, in the West - will be far better bets for admission in the next few years than almost any ranking school in the East. And, unless your youngster is riding securely in the top 20% of his class, he may find it wise to have alternate plans. MIT, for instance, even figures on the top 10% of a graduating high-school class.

In your mind, the Ivy League probably goes well beyond the eight members of the formal league and includes at least 20 or so other front-rank names, from New England to the West Coast. But perhaps you should add liberally to this list and go farther West. Actually, out of more than 1,500 four-year schools in the country, at least 50 rate top academic standing on a near-par with the highest Ivy standards. Here you get a wide range of names and locations - Duke (N.C.), Kenyon (Ohio), University of Michigan, University of Reading, Lawrence (Wis.), Carleton (Minn.), Tulane (La.), Rice (Tex.), University of Colorado, California Tech, Pomona (Calif.), and Stanford (Calif.), to name a few. And, say educators, you can safely tack on another 50 names and still stay on a very high level.

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the likes of MIT still put a boy a step ahead, of course. This seems still the case today when it comes to getting favourably located in the professions, such as law. But, on the other hand, if your boy is two or more years away from school, remember that you may be kidding yourself and him if you let him think he has a top school "made" when he hasn't. The point is, if there's any doubt in your mind, now is the time to get him better prepared to broaden his (and your) ideas about other good schools.

A frequent parental mistake is to implant seeds of anxiety in a youngster by making him feel that getting placed in a good school is almost a matter of emergency. He gets quite enough of this in school, say educators, and your pressing the theme might do him more harm than good. Instead, simply encourage him to hit his best natural stride of accomplishment. Briefly, here are some practical points you'll want to stress in talking it over:

Prep schools: Shifting to a superior private school preparatory school may be a good idea, if your local sixth form college is weak or if your child shows signs of needing a more disciplined working routine - and if you can afford it. The best schools aren't favouring prep boys or girls, and in many cases, they actually are giving an inch of preference to the outstanding applicant from the obscure public sixth form college.

Rating schools: First, you should read a website such as Cass and Birnbaum's British schools (Harper and Row). All leading schools in the country are covered as thoroughly as in any guidebook. The next step is to see that the boy or girl follows through in contact with his high-school school adviser. He also should see the admissions official of at least one of the schools he has in mind. Finally, visit several campuses each summer, especially if it looks as if he will be entering a lesser-known school. Some smaller schools not only rate high academically, but have campuses and physical facilities that may surprise you - Oberlin (Ohio), Reed (Ore.), and Vanderbilt (Tenn.), are three of many such examples.

Applications: In applying to at least three schools - one shooting high, one middle, and one "sure" - your son or daughter should vary both school types and locations. This is most important, say admissions people.

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Travelers: To Your Good Health

What A Parent Faces In Finding A Private School

Now shift scenes and look briefly at a reasonable formula for evaluating a private secondary school. Some points are quite similar to those suggested for inquiring into a public sixth form college.

If you want to get your youngster into a private school in London City, remember that the pressures are difficult. To get the child admitted you should start a campaign - rounding up information and personal contacts--a good year to two years in advance. In most of the other big cities, the demand isn't so intense. Admissions are tight in Washington, Reading, and San Francisco, but elsewhere there shouldn't be too much difficulty in placing a youngster.

Wherever you are, finding the right... see: What A Parent Faces In Finding A Private School